Most people go into teaching because they want to make a positive difference and inspire future generations. Teachers work incredibly hard but the training they receive does not adequately prepare them for the job they need to do. Our research uncovered the following seven problems with teacher training:
In the UK you can train to be a teacher in less than a year. In her book, Rebuilding our Schools from the Bottom Up, Educationalist, Fiona Carnie explains how there are many routes into teaching nowadays, but most are too short to equip teachers with the knowledge, skills and understanding of child development that are required for such a complex job.
She goes on to say that by comparison, teacher education in a number of other European countries such as Finland, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands – all of which outperformed England in the 2015 PISA tests – is much lengthier and more comprehensive.
In these countries, teacher training is four to five years long and covers important areas such as child development, educational theory and different approaches to pedagogy (the art or practice of teaching). The training also gives students extensive practical experience with opportunities to reflect on what they have learnt during their placements. Their Masters degrees explain in part the high esteem in which teachers are held in society.
Teachers in Finland are trusted to teach and do a good job and as a consequence there is no need for the heavy-handed inspection regimes that characterise so many other systems. Trusting teachers and giving them autonomy empowers them, boosts self-esteem and encourages higher staff retention rates.
By contrasting this with the hurried ten months that many trainee teachers experience in England, it’s not surprising that the House of Commons Education Committee (2017) found that around 30% of new teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying. Their report recognised some of the reasons for the problems with teacher recruitment and retention, as follows:
“Over the past six years schools have been faced with a series of changes to curriculum, assessment and the accountability system, as well as uncertainty about changes to school structures. They will have led to increased workload and pressure as schools implement the changes.”
The report also advised that teachers in England receive very little professional development compared to those in other European countries.
Some teacher training courses include child development but not all of them, and it is not always a compulsory module. There is more focus on child development in EYFS training (Early Years Foundation Stage) but it is not given a high enough priority for those training to teach Year One and above.
It’s vitally important that teachers are aware of how children’s brains and bodies develop and thus, which teaching practices and activities are appropriate for different stages of development. A lack of understanding can have damaging and lasting effects on children’s wellbeing and academic achievement.
For example, young children (even up to the age of 8) physically do not have the bone structure to be able to easily write. Ruth Swailes, a School Improvement Advisor and Education Consultant says:
“I was fortunate to work with Occupational Therapists in my early career. They taught me a lot. Child Development should be part of all teacher training so that everyone understands the fundamental differences between ages and stages. Four and five year olds are not just miniature 9 year olds.”
Dr Andrew Curran, paediatric neurologist at Alder Hay Children’s Hospital states:
“We have said for a long time now that if you don’t know about brains then you don’t really know about learning. Schools need to understand that the teenage brain is not built for sitting in rows learning facts.
When it comes to teaching, every teacher needs to know the science of how the brain works. It’s as simple as that. So much of what is spouted by so-called behaviour gurus and teaching experts flies in the face of the neuroscience.”
Dr Andrew Curran
There isn’t enough importance placed on alternative pedagogies. Sometimes information on alternative approaches to education are accessible via the reading lists but there is limited capacity for teachers to put more progressive ideas – which often have the child’s best interests at heart – into practice.
Newly qualified teachers have also complained that while they may have covered alternative pedagogical approaches in some depth in their teacher training, the courses almost contradict themselves by moving onto classroom management strategies which are at odds with the progressive pedagogies and can have long lasting detrimental effects on students’ mental health.
You can read some examples of how newly qualified teachers are choosing to leave the profession as a direct result of this. Please visit Voices from the Sector.
In 2017, over 50% of teachers told a You Gov poll that they don’t have adequate training in what to do when a child has a mental health problem.
The study commissioned by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (AFNCCF) found overwhelming agreement among the 330 primary teachers who took part that schools had a crucial role in identifying pupils with mental health problems and that teachers should receive proper training.
With mental health issues rising among school children (as young as four), it is imperative that teachers feel equipped to meet the needs of the children in their care and know which organisations to approach to help them. Dr Grace Lordan from The London School of Economics states that:
“A 2015 House of Commons Education Committee report highlighted that the quality of PSHE [Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education], as currently taught in schools, is sub-optimal and teaching delivery required improvement in 40% of secondary schools. It is routinely taught by teachers with no specific training in the subject.
Soft skills, such as people skills and emotional intelligence, are increasingly in demand in the labour market given that these skills are not readily substituted with technology.
From 2020 PSHE will be compulsory in UK schools for adolescents, but until now there has been little evidence about how this can be taught in an effective manner and no official curriculum guidance.”
Dr Grace Lordan, LSE
Many people are worried that the approach taken to education in school is years behind contemporary parenting approaches, which are based on psychology and science. There are lots of parenting books and courses available nowadays such as:
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn
Reflective Parenting, by Alistair Cooper and Sheila Redfern
The Attachment Parenting Book: A Common-sense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Child, by William Sears and Martha Sears
ParentSpeak, by Jennifer Lehr
Positive Parenting, by Rebecca Eanes
Hand in Hand Parenting Classes: www.handinhandparenting.org
Forward-thinking, or conscious, peaceful parenting practices acknowledge how human brains develop and how children learn. They recognise the importance of connection, attachment, empathy, and relationships.
Dr Suzanne Zeedyk is a research scientist who wants to make the public understand all that science has discovered about the importance of emotional connection for human health and happiness. In a speech at the Leading Edge Conference in 2017 she voiced her deep concern that the knowledge we have about the science of attachment is not translating into the Government’s vision for child care and academic attainment.
She said that schools will fail unless they into take account children’s biology, the part they play in emotional trauma and the importance of consistent emotional nurturing.
In 2018, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) branded England’s SEND a “system in crisis”.
This blog published by the National Education Union gives a teacher’s perspective: https://neu.org.uk/blog/send-crisis-teachers-perspective
Emma Parker, wrote about her experience as a Key Stage Two teacher. She said she had nine SEND children in her class who weren’t getting the support they desperately needed. She struggled to plan engaging, interactive lessons as she had to cater for so many students’ needs. She says:
“You would not leave a sick child without medication, so stop leaving our most vulnerable children without the support they need and deserve to ensure they can reach their potential”.
Watch this award-winning documentary about children with SEN and their experience of school, in their own words:
Parental engagement is a powerful key to school improvement and the gains can best be leveraged through collaboration (Rebuilding our Schools from the Bottom Up, by Fiona Carnie).
However, very rarely is there an honest, ongoing dialogue between parents and teachers about the values of the school, how the school operates or the way in which the education takes place there. Carnie states that the teaching profession can be resistant to moves to give parents a voice, and in the absence of any training for school staff on how to work in partnership with parents, many teachers feel ill-equipped to do so.
It is important therefore that teacher training providers include parental engagement as a mandatory theme within initial teacher training courses, and that school leaders include it as part of their school’s ongoing professional development programme.
Findings from a YouGov poll, commissioned by Oxfam in 2019 found that 75% of teachers feel they haven’t received adequate training to educate students about climate change.
A growing number of teachers want their pupils to learn more about the climate crisis and are calling for environmental training so they can prepare children for a rapidly changing world.
Talking to The Guardian, Noga Levy-Rapoport, from the UK Student Climate Network, said the results showed teachers and students agreed there needed to be a radical overhaul of the education system in response to the climate crisis:
“It’s clear that our education system isn’t fit for purpose to equip us for the future we’re inheriting. As things stand our generation is being led down a dark tunnel toward increasingly severe climate breakdown and uncertainty. That’s why we’re calling for radical change to centre the climate crisis as an educational priority.”
UK Student Climate Network
Please visit 15 Ways to Reimagine Education